Response to the development of Ontario's Culture Strategy

24 Nov 2015 10:49 PM | Danielle Robichaud

Executive Summary

The Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) commends the Government of Ontario for planning the province’s first Culture Strategy. The AAO notes that the discussion paper makes only one reference to archives or the work of archivists. The AAO notes that this omission is unfortunate given that primary source records form the basic building block of all culture creation and consumption. Archival records are identified, preserved, and made publicly accessible by archives and archivists.

The AAO recommends that Ontario’s Culture Strategy recognizes the contribution of archivists and archives to Ontario’s culture and that the Culture Strategy not be limited by the organizational structure of the Government of Ontario to the detriment of archivists and archives. The AAO recommends that the Culture Strategy includes funding programs to assist archives and archivists in their role as key cultural agents.


Background

The Archives Association of Ontario

The Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) is a network of archives and archivists providing programs, education, advocacy and shared knowledge. Consisting of approximately 300 members, the AAO supports and promotes the work of archivists in preserving the history and culture of Ontario and its citizens. It was established in 1993 as a result of the amalgamation of the Ontario Association of Archivists and the Ontario Council of Archives.

The AAO promotes the development of a co-operative system of archives in Ontario by:

  • Advocating on behalf of Ontario’s archival community to the government of Ontario, local government and other provincial institutions in order to advance archival practice and promote the value of archives

  • Promoting professional standards, procedures and practices among archival repositories

  • Facilitating archival communication and cooperation among institutions, users and sponsors

  • Providing leadership through communication and co-operation with individuals, groups and associations interested in the preservation and use of Ontario's documentary heritage

  • Being part of a network of provincial, territorial and national archives associations

Additionally, the AAO offers a number of different services to its members, including:

  • Guidelines for starting and managing an archives through the advisory services of the AAO Archives Advisor and Archeion Coordinator

  • Educational opportunities through professional development and web resources

  • Opportunities for members to make professional connections

  • Archeion, a database containing archival descriptions and digital objects from AAO member institutions


The Culture Strategy Development Process

Representatives of the AAO attended the Telling Our Stories, Growing Our Economy: Developing a Culture Strategy for Ontario, Consultation Session, held on November 4, 2015 at National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Tables were asked to offer six words that would describe what Ontario’s culture should be like 10 years from now. The AAO representatives asked their table to add "archives-INCLUDED!" in the list. A passionate presentation on the place of archives in culture, to the larger group, prompted the facilitator to follow up and ask the room, "So what do others think? Are archives important enough to the cultural scene in Ontario to warrant special mention in the Strategy?", and the response was a round of applause. The facilitator then noted that in no other consultation had the absence of archives from the current discussion paper been highlighted, and she then asked, "Are the note takers getting this? We'll make sure this is noted".

It is important that the next version of the discussion paper includes this acknowledgement of archives and archivists as full status partners in Ontario culture, and that their role be distinguished from those of public libraries and other memory institutions.


The Crucial Role of Archives in Culture

Archivists work to identify, preserve, and provide access to records that permanently record the culture of a society. These permanent archival records are the under pinning for all cultural activities. They provide:

  • Stories that inspire the arts, including craft, dance, literary arts, media arts, music, opera, theatre, and visual arts;

  • Research resources that fuel cultural industries, including film and television production, interactive digital media, the music industry, and book and magazine publishing;

  • Primary sources for the materials that public libraries house;

  • Evidence of cultural heritage that enables the recognition and designation of built heritage and cultural heritage landscapes, and context for archaeological sites and museum artifacts.

Archivists work to identify, preserve, and make accessible the records created by all cultural activities so that there is evidence that they actually happened; and so that future generations can create cultural activities that are informed by what is happening in the present, and by what happened in the past.

Archives enrich and provide the basis upon which stories may be written. Archives provide access to knowledge, information and root us in our personal history and community history. If archival records are not identified, preserved, and made accessible then other cultural activities lose their connection to the experiences of Ontario society.

Archivists identify, preserve, and make accessible valuable assets that provide memory of past cultural endeavours, and context for future cultural endeavours.


Archives and Culture in Ontario

The AAO commends the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for initiating this first Culture Strategy for Ontarians. The discussion paper, however, makes just one reference to archives or archivists, and yet we are crucial to the province’s ability to tell its stories, and to grow its economy. The reason for this may lie in the fact that administratively the Archives of Ontario is placed within the Ministry of Government Services rather than with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

Archives exist in many organizations in Ontario including:

  • Provincial and Federal government;

  • Municipalities;

  • Hospitals and other health care institutions;

  • Universities, colleges, school boards, private schools, and other educational institutions;

  • Religious institutions;

  • Private sector organizations;

  • Museums, galleries, libraries, and other cultural institutions.

Most frequently, but not exclusively, they report within an area of the organization that has an administrative function (e.g. Ministry of Government Services, City Clerk, Corporate Services Department, Corporate Secretary, CAO’s Office), or a cultural function (Ministry of Culture, Municipal Cultural Services Department, Community Cultural Services Board or organization, Library).

Archives and culture cross administrative lines. Archivists provide their organizations with administrative services such as records management and coordination of freedom of information requests. They also provide a valuable contribution to the development of a municipality’s cultural plan, the cultural sponsorship spending of a private sector organization, or the cultural activities of a community.

The development of Ontario’s cultural strategy should reflect the cultural reality of Ontario society. It should not be limited by the administrative organization of the Ontario government.


Culture, Digital Technology, and Archives

1. Archivists and Archives are faced with a number of challenges when it comes to their crucial role in identifying, preserving, and providing access to permanent cultural records in a digital society.

Consumers and creators of cultural resources want to know what research materials, digital or otherwise, are available by browsing the internet. To satisfy this demand the AAO operates Archeion. Archeion, Ontario's Archival Information Network, is a publicly available, bilingual gateway to descriptions of archival records located in Ontario. There are currently over 20,000 descriptions available for searching and browsing. Archeion also provides contact information and locations of archives where documents can be accessed.

Archeion brings together information about archival materials held all over Ontario. By contributing information to Archeion, archives allow researchers to easily discover their collections and to make connections between holdings of more than one hundred archival institutions across the province, saving them time and effort. Descriptions in Archeion are exposed to search engines like Google, which means that they are easily found even if researchers are unaware of the Archeion site.

Archeion is maintained by the AAO’s Archeion Coordinator. The Archeion Coordinator provides advice to archives about descriptive standards, helps with the writing of descriptions, and answers technical concerns. The Archeion Coordinator is an expert on online access to historical research materials.

Archeion was built with funding from the Canadian Culture Online Program of Canadian Heritage, the Government of Ontario, Library and Archives Canada, the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the EMC Heritage Trust. Archeion and the Archeion Coordinator require stable funding sources to remain as an effective cultural tool for Ontarians.

2. Many individual archives in Ontario have identified online access to their cultural assets as a priority. Individual archives throughout the province have developed online databases and exhibits that enrich the cultural experiences of all Ontarians. This work complements and enriches the work that the AAO is doing through Archeion. Ontario’s Culture Strategy should support this work.

3. Consumers and creators of cultural resources are looking for digital copies of historical records. Records created in non-digital formats need to be digitized. Archives across Ontario are working hard to satisfy this demand. A considerable accumulation of records requiring digitization exists despite these efforts. A provincial program for funding digitization of archival records would go a long way to satisfying the needs of consumers and creators of culture for historical documents in digital formats.

4. Most evidence of current cultural activities exists only in digital formats. Digital curation presents archivists with new challenges. All archives in Ontario are facing this challenge. The techniques and computer systems required for the identification, capture, preservation, and public access to born digital records are entirely different from those required for traditional archival work. A gap exists in the resources available to Ontario’s archives to acquire the skills, applications, and equipment needed to meet this. This is not a problem of some distant future. It is happening right now. A provincial program for funding training and equipment for archival digital curation would go a long way to satisfying the needs of consumers and creators of culture for archival documents that exist only in digital formats.


Culture and Archives in Traditional Formats

More than 200 years of Ontario’s heritage is recorded on paper, in analog still photography, audio, and video formats, as physical objects and works of art, and other non-digital formats. All of these formats of recorded culture are preserved and made available for public access by archives and the archivists that they employ.

It is unrealistic to expect that all of these records will be converted to a digital format in the near future, despite the appetites of our digital age. Complete digital conversion of all archival records requires a Herculean effort that is beyond the human and financial resources of Ontario and the individual institutions that sponsor archives in the province.

It is important that Ontario’s archives and archivists continue to have the resources to preserve and make publically accessible the non-digital records of Ontario’s culture, in their original formats. Ontario’s Cultural Strategy should provide support for these efforts.


Culture Strategy Discussion Questions

a. What does culture mean to you and your community?

Culture includes the archival records that provide evidence of past and current cultural activities. Consumers and creators of culture require archival records for the social context and memory that they provide. An inclusive cultural strategy for Ontario must include archives, archivists, and archival records.

b. How can we strengthen and grow the cultural sector in Ontario so that it continues to contribute to our social and economic wellbeing?

Support of Ontario’s archives provides Ontario’s cultural sector with the memory and context required to allow it to continue to contribute to our social and cultural wellbeing.

c. How can we inspire more youth to create, consume, and participate in Ontario culture?

Youth create, consume, and participate in Ontario culture through digital channels. Supporting Ontario’s archives in efforts to provide access to digital cultural records will inspire youth to greater cultural participation.

d. How can we help ensure that support for culture reflects Ontario’s diverse regions, communities, and populations?

Archives exist in all of Ontario’s diverse regions, communities, and populations. Archives provide memory and context for all cultural activities. By supporting archives across Ontario we will be supporting culture in all regions, communities, and populations.

e. How can we help the culture sector respond to digital challenges and opportunities?

Funding programs to assist archives in meeting the challenges of digitization and digital curation will provide the cultural sector access to resources necessary for the creation and consumption of culture.

f. In a time of scarce resources, what key culture priorities should the Ontario government support? How can your organization work in partnership with the government to support these priorities?

Support of Ontario’s archives must be a key culture priority because archives provide the foundation upon which all of culture is created and recorded. The AAO can work in partnership with the government by continuing to provide leadership for Ontario’s archives and archivists, and by developing criteria and delivery mechanisms for new provincial archival funding programs.

g. Do the guiding principles on page 9 reflect what is important to you? Are there others we should consider?

The AAO supports the guiding principles. Archives preserve evidence of creativity and innovation and make them available to inspire further creativity and innovation. Archives provide memory and context for cultural activities to maximize the social and economic benefits of culture. Archives support diversity because they exist in all communities. The AAO offers its expertise in heritage preservation to all Ontarians including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. Archives contribute to public value and accountability by preserving and making accessible evidence of the activities of governments and other sponsoring organizations.

h. What is the Ontario government doing well to support the arts, cultural industries, public libraries, and cultural heritage sectors? What would you like to see changed? Are there best practices that Ontario could learn from and adapt?

The AAO would like to see the government of Ontario recognize archives as full and equal partners in the creation and consumption of culture. The discussion paper and this question references the arts, cultural industries, public libraries, and the cultural heritage sector but does not mention archives at all. The discussion of cultural heritage on pages 14-15 talks about cultural heritage providing a connection “to where we live, to the people who came before us, and to the stories that have shaped Ontario.” The stories of these people and their contributions to culture are remembered through archives. And yet no references to archives can be found in the discussion. It is clear from the discussion that the Ontario government’s current definition of cultural heritage and cultural heritage institutions is limited to built heritage, artifacts, and museums. The Ontario Heritage Trust could not conduct research and run programs like Doors Open without information found in the province’s archives. A Community Museum Operating Grant exists to assist museums but no such program exists for archives. A comprehensive cultural strategy must include recognition of the significant contribution that archives make to Ontario culture.


Conclusion

The AAO concludes that the Province of Ontario is to be commended for embarking on its first cultural strategy. The AAO concludes that this strategy must include archival records as key and foundational cultural assets, and archives as significant cultural institutions. The AAO makes the following recommendations to assist the Government of Ontario in developing an inclusive and comprehensive cultural strategy.


Recommendations

The AAO recommends that:

a. The next version of the discussion paper includes an acknowledgement of archives and archivists as full status partners in Ontario culture, and that their role be distinguished from those of public libraries and other memory institutions.

b. The Government of Ontario adopts a cross-ministerial approach to culture. This approach needs to recognize the importance of archives to culture, despite the fact that the cultural strategy is being developed by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, but the Archives of Ontario is placed administratively in the Ministry of Government Services. Intellectually the Archives of Ontario belongs in both administrative spheres, as do all of Ontario’s archives.

c. There should be increased inclusion of archivists and archives in the development of the Ontario cultural strategy.

d. The Government of Ontario support the significant role archives play in culture by developing funding programs for archives in the following areas:

Access to information:

  • Projects that preserve and provide access to records in non-digital formats;
  • Projects that prepare archival records for digitization;
  • Records digitization projects;
  • Projects that make records available on the internet through online databases and exhibits;
  • Projects that assist archives with contributing to Archeion;
  • Ongoing and sustainable funding of Archeion and the Archeion Coordinator.
Developing capacity for digital curation:
  • Research projects that explore the appraisal, acquisition, preservation , and public access of digital records
  • Assisting archives in obtaining digital curation tools
  • Development of training programs for archival digital curation
  • Ongoing and sustainable funding of the AAO’s Archives Advisor as a centre of digital curation advice
Developing professional capacity:
  • Training opportunities for practitioners
  • Work experience opportunities for young and emerging heritage professionals in archives
  • Ongoing and sustainable funding of the AAO’s Archives Advisor

Address: 411 Richmond Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, ON M5A 3S5

Phone: 647-343-3334 | Email: aao@aao-archivists.ca

     

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